Eiffel Tower - An Icon Changes Its Term Paper

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Eiffel Tower - an Icon Changes Its Image

The Eiffel Tower seizes the imagination, it is something unexpected, fantastic, which flatters our smallness..." (Quote by an Italian visitor to the Exposition Universelle 1889); (Thompson 2000).

According to Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, an icon is several things, including a) "a usually pictorial representation"; b) a "conventional religious image..." c) "an object of uncritical devotion"; and d) a graphic symbol for example on a computer display screen "that usually suggests its meaning...or the purpose of an available function..."

For the purposes of this essay, the third definition - an "object of uncritical devotion" - fits well into what the Eiffel Tower has in the past represented to the world, to Europe, to France, and particularly to Paris. The Eiffel Tower has been a symbol of romance and courtship, but that is being altered due to dramatic changes in France and in French cultural unrest. This paper will examine what those changes are and why images of the Eiffel Tower are now watered down and even corrupted by the reality of today. It should be noted that Who could be critical of the Eiffel Tower? It is in fact an object of great devotion and curiosity. Oh indeed, at the time of its construction there were critics, and there were artists and creative luminaries who protested the Eiffel Tower. But time has passed and with its passing, the Eiffel Tower's solid hold on its legacy, its undeniable prestige and it's romantic implications grew stronger and more sturdy over the years, until recently that is.

ICONS:

In addition to the Eiffel Tower, there are many high-visibility icons in the world, including the Taj Mahal, the Sydney Australia Opera House, the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, Bangkok's Grand Palace, the Kolner Dom, and the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor. Not all of these are "objects of uncritical devotion"; indeed, the Statue of Liberty is seen by millions of people around the world as a symbol of United States arrogance and the unjustified use of unlimited military power by the U.S. When Muslims anywhere in the world, especially in the Middle East, see a photo of the Statue of Liberty, they see an iconic symbol of what they consider the unjustified occupation of Iraq by American soldiers; they see U.S. military support for Israel (a country they despise); they see evil; they see what Osama bin Laden calls the "infidels."

Icons must be "drastically beautiful or else compellingly ugly," writes author Mark Kingwell (Kingwell's book is Marginalia: A Cultural Reader), who lists the "Ten Steps to the Creation of a Modern Media Icon." He of course is engaging in a bit of exaggeration and hyperbole, and he's referring to people, not necessarily places, but in step "1" Kingwell says the icon must be an image the cameras "love." In step 3 he goes on to say that there must be "a narrative structure that bathes the icon in the pure light of the fairy tale or morality play," and in the case of the Eiffel Tower, there is a fairy tale image associated with it, and that is romance, the place where lovers hold hands and make vows, and the place where a suitor would romantically propose marriage to his sweetheart. "Tragic," "love," "promise," and "happiness" are words that Kingwell associates with an icon in the fairy tale genre.

EIFFEL TOWER GENERALIZATIONS:

Meanwhile, the Eiffel Tower continues to draw people to Paris, France, because it is so dominant a symbol of Paris ("The City of Lights") and because it stands out so boldly and beautifully in travel brochures and posters, TV commercials, and in movies about Paris - of which there are many. Miriam R. Levin, writing from an engineering point-of-view in the French Review (Levin 1989), insists that the Eiffel Tower is "...a significant example of the role which the arts of design, or applied arts, have played in industrializing society..."

And William Thompson, also writing in the French Review (Thompson 2000), explains that after the initial barrage of protest against the Eiffel Tower by such artistic luminaries as Maupassant and Huysmans, artists and writers began saluting the iconic tower with romantic narrative and poems. The poet Guillaume Apollinaire wrote "Zone" in 1912, and it still rings with romance all these years later. Apollinaire's vision of the Eiffel Tower, Thomson writes (p. 1134), is "...a maternal figure, a modern shepherdess watching over the bridges of Paris, over a city now overwhelmed by cars and planes." Moreover, to the poet the Eiffel Tower is a "sudden, striking, vertically-towering debutante in the Parisian landscape" which reduces bridges over the Seine to "tiny, insignificant structures..."

The Eiffel Tower was featured in a famous French play by Jean Cocteau ("Les Maries de la Tour Eiffel"); the Tower was like the "central character" according to Thompson. The story involved a wedding party that had reservations at the Tower's restaurant, but telegrams are falling from the sky, and a number of interesting things (a lion, an ostrich, a bather) catapult out of a photographer's camera before the wedding party arrives. "Nothing could be more stereotypically, absurdly French than a wedding party," Thompson mentions on page 1135. The author adds that the Eiffel Tower's form has become something of a "religious" symbol, but not that of Christianity or any other faith.

It is a physical symbol...of modernity and of the celebration of Parisian life... [a place where] the faithful flocks continue to congregate" (Thompson 1136). Moreover, the Eiffel Tower has been "proclaimed the symbol of industrial and artistic progress," Thompson continues, and it has been seen as the symbol of "electric lights, elevators, telephones, military power, centralization, the union of workers and engineers...technical utopianism, modern Paris...superhuman exaltation..." And much more. And indeed, although the Eiffel Tower is not a monument "to anything," in Thompson's words, and yet it has become a symbol of romance over the years, in the same sense as Paris has become a place for lovers to unite, celebrate, and do what lovers do. "The loveliness of Paris," Tony Bennett sings; and Michelle LeGrand's version of "I love Paris" is nearly as famous. So much has been said, written, and sung about Paris, and always in the background is that towering symbol of France.

THE EIFFEL TOWER'S NEWER SYMBOLISM: SEX and VIOLENCE: Paris has in the past had a reputation as a very sweetly romantic city, framed by and beneath the Eiffel Tower; that said, a part of Paris has always been seen as "naughty," writes Natasha Fraser-Cavassoni in the New York Times. But now the city of romance and "naughty" has turned to a place where cheap, easy sex among "swingers" is apparently a popular pastime. Maybe those drops of water falling from the sky near the Eiffel Tower are its tears, shed over the loss of sweetness in romance, and the emergence of not only sleaze as an easy and well-trod path, but of violence too. More on the violence a bit later in this paper.

As for sleaze, the reporter for the New York Times, Fraser-Cavassoni, visited Les Chandelles, a club where sexual trysts and exhibitionism are notorious. Fraser-Cavassoni was told by the owner of the club (Valerie) that "If someone isn't sexy enough, we turn them away" at the door. But the owner added that Les Chandelles was not a place for whips and chains and dominating carnal behavior, just "seduction and sophistication." Indeed, before too long "two couples were groping and moaning in the first salon," Fraser-Cavassoni explained. In the windowless salon, "...there was a mass of writhing bodies" on the floor. Later, the owner Valerie explained to the Times reporter that a lot of intercourse goes on during the evenings at Les Chandelles (which by the way is not technically a "whore house" - it's just a club that costs $87 admission); and when it comes to styles of sexual behavior, Valerie said, "show her a couple going at it and 'I'll tell you what kind of life they've led.'"

Another New York Times reporter, Guy Trebay, visited Cleopatre, a club similar to the one described above; in an atmosphere of "velvet hush" with a "civilized air of decorum," married couples go into rooms with other married couples (or couples in long-term relationships) and have sexual intercourse (after expensive dinner, of course, being that this is Paris). There are about 250 of these heterosexual "exchange" clubs in Paris (or there were in 2002 when this article was published; there are likely more today), and the owner of Cleopatre, Herve Behal, told the Times "Our philosophy has always been sexual freedom, free from restrictions, free from shame." In this club, Behal continued, "...a woman loses no respect if she decides to have sex with four different men."

It's a big phenomenon right now," said Carine Roitfeld, editor of French Vogue magazine. "It's very, very fashionable for some reason," she continued, quoted by Trebay.

VIOLENCE AGAINST FRENCH WOMEN: Meanwhile, a national survey investigating… [END OF PREVIEW]

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